The new 14th-generation F-150 may have been around longer than its predecessor, thanks in part to its OTA software update system. This seemingly small piece of technology is a major asset to the Blue Oval as it gives engineers and product planners the ability to wirelessly enhance a wide variety of functions.
“It gives us that opportunity. I think we now have the opportunity to make the vehicle physically better for the customer with these OTA updates, and that’s something that’s changing in terms of the business model,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Company. head of product development and purchasing, explained to Automotive News.
Ford introduced its over-the-air software update system on the aforementioned F-150, which is beginning to reach dealer lots across the country, and the technology will later spread to other models, including the electric Mustang Mach-E. Engineers have already identified some use cases for it. For example, the F-150 and Mach-E can be purchased with an optional hands-free driving system called Active Drive Assist, and the feature will be sent to early adopters when it is ready in the third quarter of 2021. Muscle Cars & Trucks learned that 55 of the F-150’s systems can be adjusted wirelessly. Even fuel economy can be improved through powertrain modifications.
It helps that a majority of motorists are already familiar with the process. Whether you choose Android or Apple, chances are your device is running at least semi-regular updates over the air. These updates often happen behind the scenes, preferably over Wi-Fi, and they bring patches, fixes and new interfaces.
Thai-Tang’s comments reaffirm the idea that technology is one of the most important measures in the automotive industry, even in the pickup segment. If owners can gain 10 horsepower or a few miles per gallon by tapping the “download” icon on their touchscreen, Ford may be able to get away with delaying sheet metal refreshes longer than we are used to. In this light, model years may not ultimately matter as much as the version of the software that is running. It would be a dramatic turnaround for an industry that used to roll out new looks every model year in an effort to stay ahead of the competition and attract more buyers to showrooms.
Spacing redesigns is a strategy that can help Ford save money, but OTA technology also allows car companies to make money. Ford, for example, and this is pure speculation, could give buyers the option to customize their vehicle’s lighting signature or add menus to the infotainment system. The executives haven’t yet publicly announced plans to charge for functions, but it’s something many of his peers are experimenting with.
Ford isn’t the only company seeing huge potential in OTA updates. Tesla immediately comes to mind; he hasn’t given the Model S a major makeover since the sedan was released in 2012, but has updated it time and time again with more power, more range, new infotainment features and bug fixes. Chevrolet also reprogrammed the 2020 Corvette’s Body Control Module (BCM) with an over-the-air update in August 2020.